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Russian Scientist Says Other Countries May Have Novichok Samples

Former Russian chemical scientist Vil Mirzayanov at his home in New Jersey on March 13.

The Russian scientist who originally helped develop the nerve agent believed to have been used in the poisoning of a Russian double agent in Britain said other countries could have also produced test samples of the substance.

But in an interview with Current Time TV, Vil Mirzayanov, who emigrated to the United States in the 1990s, blamed Russia for the poisoning, which has roiled relations between Moscow and London and led to tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats.

Mirzayanov said he had published the formula for the agent — known as novichok — in a 2008 English-language book called State Secrets: An Insider's Chronicle Of The Russian Chemical Weapons Program Secrets.

“The British could certainly have synthesized it on the basis of the formulas that I published in my book,” Mirzayanov said in the interview conducted at his home in New Jersey.

“Each country takes care of its own security, and as part of the study of possible threats, a model could have been created,” he said. “So, many countries could have had test samples, but production was only refined in the U.S.S.R. and Russia.”

Vil Mirzayanov's book, State Secrets
Vil Mirzayanov's book, State Secrets

Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, remain critically ill after they were found unconscious on a bench in the English town of Salisbury on March 4.

A police officer who was among the first to respond to the incident -- which prompted authorities to call in military units to help in cleaning up -- remains in a serious but stable condition in hospital.

On March 17, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that it will expel 23 diplomats in retaliation after Britain ordered the same number of Russian diplomats expelled from Britain.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on March 16 said that it was "overwhelmingly likely" that Russian President Vladimir Putin made the decision to use the toxin against Skripal. Putin's spokesman denounced the claim.

Mirzayanov first revealed the existence of the so-called binary weapon -- an agent that becomes deadly when two harmless substances are combined into one -- in the early 1990s when he was still living in Russia.

The Soviet authorities, he said, had violated the international treaty banning chemical weapons, and he sought to reveal the deception and get the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to include the precursor chemicals on the list of banned substances.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia
Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia

In earlier interviews, he pointedly blamed Russia for the Skripal poisoning. But, he also held out the possibility that another entity might have used the formula he published in his book to manufacture it as well.

Asked why he decided to publish the formula for the chemical, he said it was partly out of guilt, and out of a desire to force the OPCW to act.

“I decided that no one was going to listen to me. I decided that I should take responsibility to create pressure and include this novichok on the list of banned chemicals,” he told Current Time, a Russian-language TV channel produced by RFE/RL in collaboration with Voice of America.

“Because I think that Russia should not have a monopoly over this secret weapon at the same time that it was fooling its negotiating partners,” he said, “and wasn’t including it and could be continuing to produce even further these weapons.”

“A scientist, when working on creating such weapons, must ask the question: ‘What is this for? Who is it for?’” he told Current Time. “And I came to the conclusion that chemical weapons [have] no purpose for the defense of a nation. It is a weapon of mass destruction of people --defenseless civilians.”

“My purpose is to bring international controls over novichok,” he said.

Skripal, 66, was a retired Russian military intelligence colonel who was convicted of treason in 2006 for passing the identities of Russian intelligence agents to Britain's Secret Intelligence Service.

He was one of four Russian prisoners released in 2010 in exchange for 10 Russian sleeper agents uncovered in the United States, including Anna Chapman.